We’ve all struggled with this to some degree. You’re in the middle of something you need to get done, but you’re daydreaming again. Your attention span is gone, you desperately need more focus to get things done, and it just isn’t there.
But don’t worry, since this is so common, many of us are out here struggling with our ability to focus. Luckily, there are simple ways to corral your mind to refocus to get that to-do list done, and we’ve compiled them all here for you!
Why Can’t I Focus?
So many things can cause the inability to focus. You may not have gotten enough sleep or you grabbed a coffee instead of a real meal.
You may not think your wellness has anything to do with your attention and focus, but it does. Your brain health is affected by your physical health; it makes it even harder to focus when you have no energy and are exhausted.
You may even feel hyper (probably due to all that extra caffeine), which can negatively affect your focus. Often if you get your body moving when you feel this way, it will exert that extra energy and help you be able to focus.
For a positive impact on your ability to focus, try getting enough quality sleep, eating a fulfilling meal, taking a walk with your coffee (or you’re preferred drink), then sitting down to work.
Some health conditions can make it more difficult to reign in your focus, like insomnia, learning disorders, thyroid disease, autism, and mental health disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
This can be incredibly frustrating to those affected; in addition to the following recommendations, it’s always best to contact a healthcare professional who may be able to advise you or recommend specific things targeted to you and your struggle.
Procrastination is widespread; even the most motivated, focused person will struggle with it. Procrastination is not laziness; it’s delaying tasks for varying reasons.
Maybe you’re waiting to feel inspired, or you think you have plenty of time. You may just feel overwhelmed or under too much pressure to complete things off your to-do list, so instead, you freeze up.
It’s a bad habit that begins to spill into your life, and habits are hard to break. Read Atomic Habits; this book is vital to arm yourself with the ability to break these chronic negative behaviors that plague your everyday life and stop you from reaching your potential.
Procrastination can affect more than just work or things you need to get done. It can cause much extra stress in all parts of your life. You may start putting off things like doctor appointments or even self-care because these tasks feel overwhelming, which can affect your well-being.
Often these behaviors start a cycle of procrastination that snowballs, which can cause more stress and anxiety. If you already struggle with anxiety, having more anxiety added doesn’t help.
Read here for a more in-depth breakdown of chronic procrastination and steps to take to tackle it. Focusing and procrastination go hand in hand, so as you learn to refocus, decrease your tendencies to procrastinate, and get things done.
It seems like there is always something better to be doing than work (who can blame us, though). Your phone is pinging with notifications from your social media, so you check it just “real quick.”
Next thing you know, it’s been 40 minutes, and you’ve made no progress. We feel FOMO (fear of missing out) if we aren’t scrolling through all the sudden updates. But that kind of habit just makes it hard for us to refocus.
One of the major things to do when trying to refocus is to eliminate distractions. This includes no multitasking. When you’re multi-tasking, you’re trying to divide your attention equally, and it’s just not something that happens.
You are overloading your mind, making it harder for your brain to remember and learn. It’s just not efficient. Using your full attention on one thing at a time does a better job and is quicker once you can focus.
To eliminate distractions figure out places you can work best. For some people, this means an office in their house with the door shut to kids, pets, roommates, etc. For others, they just cannot focus at home, or maybe they don’t have the space to set up a private area to work in.
Head to a park, a public library, or a coffee shop. Silence your phone and put it away in your bag or a drawer.
Make sure you have a healthy snack and a drink available; this way, you can’t use hunger or thirst as an excuse to stop working. Keeping a simple workspace clear of extra things means you can’t toy with things on your desk or work area.
For some people, the background noise of people in a park or coffee shop is fine, but for others, this can be a distraction. You can try noise-canceling headphones, white noise, or a playlist of calming music. You may have to try a few different versions to figure out what works best for you.
Practice Time Management
When you know something will take a while, it may make you more prone to procrastination because you feel like once you start, you’re stuck and shouldn’t stop. This isn’t true. It’s actually better to allow yourself to have short breaks.
The key word is short, like 10 to 15 minutes, not two hours. So set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes, work for that amount of time, then once the timer goes off, take that quick break.
This is especially beneficial when you are relearning how to focus, knowing you have a break coming up and don’t have to sit there for hours which can leave you feeling antsy and on edge. It allows you to regroup and refresh your brain to get back at it with your full attention.
Switch it up if you’ve been stuck on one task or part of your work! Work on something easier for a little while. Your attention can wander if you have been on one thing at a time without progress.
As soon as your attention slips, it can spiral downward, losing all your focus. Switching and working on another part gives your mind a break and can even spark new ideas, thus keeping you working but not straining your mind.
You may have a time frame for focusing more or working best. For example, you can work better from nine to 11 a.m. than from two to four p.m. So prioritize the more important parts for when you are more productive.
That way, when you hit the afternoon, the things you are working on take less brain power, so you can implement shorter working times and more breaks. You are still getting your work done but are optimizing your mental capacity and time.
A great way to strengthen your mental focus is through meditation. Meditation is beneficial for an array of things. It’s a practice that connects you with your mind. It can shift your mindset and decrease stress. There are a few meditation methods that help boost focus and mental well-being.
- Mindfulness meditation is one technique where you practice breathing exercises as you become aware of your body and mind. Thoughts are allowed to pass by; this is very helpful for those of us that struggle with negative thoughts or worries. Through practice, you can improve concentration and be in the present moment. When your mind is calmer and less overloaded, it is easier to focus, and it improves your cognitive abilities like emotion regulation.
- Concentrative meditation is the practice of focusing on one thing. This can be an object, a sound, or even a word. This helps with self-awareness, allowing thoughts and stress to separate from your current mind and pass by as you focus on that one thing. As you practice this meditation, you can refocus your mind as it tries to wander.
- Moving meditation is meditation with movement. This is most commonly seen in yoga or tai chi. In these practices, by focusing on your breath and movements, your brain begins to learn to focus fully despite distractions. This type of meditation is good for both mind and body; it helps decrease stress and can improve physical symptoms such as high blood pressure.
Getting Things Done
It can feel intimidating to retrain your brain while your list of things to do builds up. Try implementing one new thing at a time, and see how improved you can pay attention and focus. Then add another new trick, and soon these positive behaviors will become your new habits.
You’ll have your neurons firing in no time! You’ll be able to conquer anything placed on your to-do list, remember more of that conversation, and feel less stressed knowing you can get things done.